Tag Archives: Syrian Jews

Jews of the Week: Safra Family

World’s Richest Banker

Edmond, Joseph, and Moise Safra

Jacob Safra (1891-1963) was born to a religious Sephardic family in the Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria. He was from a long line of Ottoman merchants and bankers. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Safra opened a new banking business in Beirut. His bank soon became the most trusted financial institution for the region’s many Jews. When things became difficult in Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel, Safra moved his family (with four sons and four daughters) to Italy, and then to Brazil. There, Safra and his sons founded a new bank in São Paulo in 1955. While eldest son Elie Safra (1922-1993), and third son Moise Safra (1934-2014) played smaller roles in the family business, the most prominent of the brothers was undoubtedly Edmond Safra (1932-1999). He opened a branch in Geneva, and transformed an initial $1 million into $5 billion in less than three decades. He also founded the Republic National Bank of New York, which grew to 80 locations, making it the third largest bank network in the city (after Chase and Citigroup). Edmond later opened financial institutions in Luxembourg and Russia. The latter would prove unfortunate, as many believe his “accidental” death in a house fire may have been an assassination by Russian mobsters. Today, Banco Safra is run by youngest son Joseph Safra (b. 1939). His net worth is estimated around $25 billion, making him the richest banker in the world. The Safras have always been famous for their incredible generosity. They have funded countless schools, hospitals, universities, and charities. Edmond Safra was particularly interested in building and restoring Jewish sites, and paid for synagogues all over the world, including in Manila, Istanbul, and Kinshasa. He financed the first new synagogue in Madrid in 500 years, and saved an ancient synagogue in France from demolition. He also refurbished and funded the tombs of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochaiin Israel, and prayed at the tomb of the former each year before the holiday of Shavuot. Several medical centres and university faculties around the world bear his name, and the Safra family was one of the founders of São Paulo’s most renowned hospital. He established the International Sephardic Education Foundation to provide scholarships for those in need, and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation continues to give millions to charity each year. The Safras stay out of the public eye, and hold on to their faith – as well as a strictly kosher diet. Most recently, they paid for the beautiful new Moise Safra Centre in Manhattan.

15 Life Lessons from King David

Words of the Week

If you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible.
– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

In 2014, Joseph Safra purchased one of London’s most iconic buildings, the Gherkin (left), for a whopping £700 million. The Safras also own the General Motors Building in Manhattan (bottom centre), and fund (clockwise from top) the American University of Beirut, the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital in Israel, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue of New York, and the tomb of Rabbi Meir – a popular pilgrimage site.

Jew of the Week: Carolina Duer

World Boxing Champion

Carolina Duer (Credit: Jonathan Gilbert)

Carolina Duer (Credit: Jonathan Gilbert)

Carolina Raquel Duer (b. 1978) was born in Argentina, the daughter of Syrian-Jewish immigrants. She went to a Jewish school growing up, spent time on an Israeli kibbutz, and frequented the Buenos Aires Maccabi club. When once visiting a gym with a friend, she was spotted by a boxing coach, and agreed to be trained by him. She soon became an amateur boxer, winning 19 of 20 matches, while also working as a waitress in her family’s restaurant. By 2010, Duer had become a professional boxer and won the world’s super flyweight championship. This made her the first female Jewish boxing champion. She defended the title six times before moving on to the bantamweight division in 2013 and winning that world title, too. After defending her title yet again in 2014, Duer took time off to focus on her family. She became a boxing announcer on Argentine television in the mean time. Incredibly, not long after having a baby, Duer returned to the ring earlier this year and won the International Boxing Federation’s bantamweight title. She is now among the greatest Jewish boxers (male or female) of all time. Duer has been nicknamed “The Turk” and “Iron Barbie”. In her spare time, she often volunteers with disadvantaged youth, and has said, “I do a lot of work with kids on the street. I explain to them that boxing isn’t violent. It can be used to give them focus. It’s good for both body and mind.”

Words of the Week

Transgressions of man towards God – Yom Kippur atones for them. Transgressions of man towards man – Yom Kippur does not atone for them until one seeks forgiveness from one’s fellow
– Talmud, Yoma 85b